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December 16, 2008

You Are Now Friends With…Your Co-Workers!

I’ve haven’t participated in a corporate social network, and based on the descriptions of some of them, I’m not sure I want to. One system I heard about enables colleagues to see all the books on your electronic bookshelf. That would be fine, except some people aren’t proud of their electronic library. What if that electronic library consists of a whole collection of books with the word “dummy” in the titles such as “Windows Vista for Dummies,” “Microsoft Office 2007 for Dummies,” etc? As it turns out, I don’t have any electronic library at all—either on my work computer or PC, but if I did, I imagine a lot of titles I wouldn’t be eager to share.

If you’re able to pick and choose what to share, the whole endeavor becomes meaningless. Instead of a true window into what helps your co-workers or managers perform so well, your colleagues (and you, too, maybe) become like the man in the fancy smoking jacket, with an expensive cigar in his mouth, and a whole library in his house of books he feels proud of displaying, though he never intends to read. One of the nice things about social networks like Facebook or MySpace is the sense you’re experiencing a piece of the person whose page you’ve gained access to. You suddenly have a window into their likes and dislikes, and maybe even some injudiciously chosen photos. The goals for a corporate social network are different in that it’s not of imperative importance that you understand your cubicle mate plays the harp and is fixated on saving white tigers. But to be effective, the network has to give you access to the tools they really use (not just those they’d like to brag about) to get their jobs done, and those tools that gave them support in their professional development. What I’m wondering about is how much of these corporate social networking sites are more about posturing than an honest exchange of ideas and feedback?

It’s tempting to jump into the corporate social network trend because you think it shows how hip and Millennial-savvy your company is. But before you do that, take time with your executives to decide what you’d like this “revolutionary” platform to accomplish. Maybe it’s not a good fit for your organization. Is it possible this new forum will be more of a distraction than a help to your workforce?  Maybe you need to put some controls in place, and publish some guidelines about use of the site, so your goals for it are realized. First, how personal do you want employees’ pages to be?  How much do you want these personalized entries to resemble Facebook?  On the one hand, you risk sacrificing professionalism and encouraging on-the-job distraction. On the other hand, maybe your workforce will collaborate better once they feel more comfortable with one another. Comfort is good, but then you have to ask yourself about legal entanglements like sexual harassment. No matter how loose and easy/breezy your social network is, you need to publish some guidelines about appropriate content, and point out that exchanges that wouldn’t be considered appropriate over the cubicle wall also aren’t appropriate on the company social network.

You also need to figure out whether employees pages will be universally accessible to other employees; whether they’ll just be automatically accessible to all those in their work group or business division; or whether you’ll leave decisions about access up to individuals. If you leave the decision, Facebook-style, up to individual workers, some social awkwardness, if not conflict, might arise. “Why wouldn’t you want everyone at your company, or at least in your work group, to see your corporate social network page?” colleagues denied access will wonder.  But if employees’ managers, in addition to their colleagues, can see their collaboration and (inevitably sometimes casual) exchanges with co-workers, won’t they feel too inhibited to take full advantage of the platform?

With so many more potential complications than the designers of MySpace and Facebook had to consider, don’t try to emulate these leisure-time networks too closely. Be sure to use employees’ personalized pages to push them to achieve for the company. The idea of a “Wall” on each worker’s page is great, but maybe you should particularize the “Wall” so it’s not just a “Wall,” but an “Innovation Wall” in which the primary exchanges are about ideas for new products and other ways to grow the company. After all, you don’t want your employees’ open exchanges on the network to concentrate on a highly intellectual debate about the merits of the chocolate martini versus the appletini.

The photo album portion of the pages also can be narrowed for use that’s mostly related to the company. You can specify that the only photos on these pages should be from company events, outings with workgroups, or, even better, photos that relate to a new idea for product, service, or company strategy. Instead of a profile of favorite “TV shows” and other non-immediately-work-relevant likes and dislikes, have profiles ask questions such as top tips for making it through a rough project; how each employee got his or her professional start; greatest professional accomplishment to date; and ultimate professional goal or dream.

Not entirely professional, but the status update isn’t a bad idea for your corporate social network. Wouldn’t you love to know what all your employees “are doing right now?” 

Have you launched a corporate social network yet?  What are some of your concerns about providing this type of forum to your employees? What are some of the key benefits, and how do you tailor the site so it meets your goals?



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I work for EMC, and we've been incorporating social media internally for a little over a year now. We have three bloggers who have been documenting this journey:



Len Devanna

Hi there... Gina pointed me to your post... As she mentions, check out any of our blogs. You'll quickly see that we not only have a thriving internal community - but that's it's become a critical component of our online ecosystem and enables 40k employees to interact, collaborate and share across geographic and organizational boundaries. Having it grow as part of our internal culture for over a year now, I cannot imagine life without it - and we've been faced with very few of he challenges noted above.

I'd suggest the workplace of tomorrow will be at a gross disadvantage if they have not embraced 2.0 tools and techniques.


So I glanced through a few of these posts, and I'm kind of wondering what the point is. I have a Facebook page, but just because it seemed to be the thing to do, given the "social" circumstances at the time. From a purely "professional" perspective, I understand "Communities of Practice", i.e., informally sharing knowledge for the advancement of the corporate mission/goals/objectives - which makes a lot of "corporate mission" sense. But, what "corporate goal" does e-chit-chat serve?

Dave Ferguson

Do you really think posing is limited to online social networks? I think in any non-electronic network you could hardly swing a dead cat without striking some self-impressed creator of place-of-employment illusion.

By your own admission you "haven't participated in a corporate social network." Is all this second-hand? Without attribution?

An either/or mentality used for a side issue like sharing electronic libraries seems to miss the point: you CAN share these things; you don't have to. And people who come across what you share don't necessarily assume that what they see is all there is -- any more than people who always see you in double-pleated trousers, French cuffs, and a bowtie believe those are the only articles of clothing you own.

Even if they are.

As for "friending," well, that's what most sites call it. They don't have to; you could set up one and use "colleague" or "confrere" or "esteemed colleague." Here on earth, there are fellow employees you do interact with, and others you just happen to share a payroll system with.

Jamais Cascio points out in his TED talk (http://tinyurl.com/96qy68), some characteristics that web 2.0 tools make possible include transparency, collaboration, and experimentation. Those run counter to hierarchical and authoritarian structures, and won't necessarily work in all cases. I've said myself that you're not likely to use informal learning to, say, revise pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Nonetheless, employers who think they can control everything their employees do are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis employers who work at making it easier for their employees to take an active part in the organization (other than "do what you're told").

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